Summer is in full swing in Beijing, with a heat index that is exhausting and humidity so thick it feels like being water boarded every time you inhale. Amid this heat and humidity there rides a lone foreigner on a rickety, poorly-made, death-trap of a bike. I peddle as fast as the fixed gear crap bike will go to create my own air conditioning. It’s mostly a failed effort. My office is about twenty minutes away by bike, the perfect distance to be totally drenched by the time I arrive. I carry a backpack with my laptop and books– so my back is drenched before I really board the bike and get rolling. Needless to say, my colleagues don’t like sitting near me.
But the heat and humidity aren’t the only smelly annoyances– the biggest is the pollution. It seems the humidity keeps the pollution lower, right at about mouth and nose level. So, when I’m peddling like Lance Armstrong on my way to work I’m basically sucking in pure exhaust and god-knows-what particles from construction and roof-high piles of trash in the hutongs. I’m also inhaling paint fumes, and the smells of burning plastic. Its no small wonder that lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death in China– we’re inhaling pure poision all day long, and I’m inhaling it rapidly (choking on it, really) on my bike.
My bike is another issue all together. For 290RMB (40-ish dollars) it offers a fragile frame that with all my bulging muscles I can squeeze and watch contract. The frame holds two wheels with spokes so thin I’m curious how they hold the rim on. The sit isn’t attached well, so it angles and swivels. The handlebars are not lined up with the body of the bike so that your torso has to be turned slightly while steering– this is nothing compared to the dangers of how weak the peddles are. If you stand up on them to gain speed you might push right through them, crashing into the pavement.
I only bring this up because with the dangerous on the Beijing roads on bike, I’m surprised I’ve lasted this long. I’ve been two minor accidents. One car moving forward decided it wanted to go in the opposite direction instead, and proceeded to back up into oncoming traffic (aka- me). The second accident was when a woman decided to turn left from the right lane on her bike without look at either the cars to her left or the other bikers (aka- me again). Both times I swerved and the crash was minor, with no injuries except a scrape on my foot when her kickstand scraped over my sandal. No worries. Since my bike only peddles at about 10 mph I think I’m fairly safe.